Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 14 year old boy yesterday in front of Christ’s birthplace during a raid to capture a Palestinian activist. Members of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation staff in Bethlehem were trapped by the fighting…
Bethlehem, West Bank – Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 14 year old boy yesterday in front of Christ’s birthplace during a raid to capture a Palestinian activist. Members of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation staff in Bethlehem were trapped by the fighting that escalated quickly outside of their office door.
Children had been released from school for the day and were playing in a park across the street when Israeli soldiers began their incursion. As the soldiers began operations in the area, the children saw what they were doing and began throwing stones to make them go away. The soldiers responded by firing poison gas canisters and rubber bullets at the children on the playground, which made it difficult for them to see and breathe. Israeli soldiers often use this tactic to obstruct an area so people will not be able to observe what they are doing, said HCEF staff.
After word of the attack spread, children and young men came into the streets and began throwing rocks at the soldiers. The soldiers shot back with gas bombs and rubber bullets, and fighting continued this way for several hours in the street.
At least three people were injured by their ammunition, including two boys and a mother who had come to rescue her children from the fighting. One fourteen year old boy died on the playground, which lies across the street from the Church of the Nativity. Hospital reports show that he was killed by live ammunition from Israeli soldiers. The mother and other young boy are being treated at an area hospital. Anyone in proximity to the event, even those in their homes in the area, would have felt the burning and stinging of the gas for hours as fighting went on in the street.
HCEF Bethlehem staff did their best to record the event with pictures and video footage, but doing so put them in extreme danger. At one point the HCEF Accountant reported being seen by an Israeli solider as she took pictures out of an office window. “The soldier saw me and pointed his gun at me, and began firing into the office. They even shot poison gas canisters, so we were crying, we couldn’t breathe, and we felt like it was burning in our lungs,” she said. HCEF staff were confined to their office for over four hours while the fighting continued right outside their door.
“It’s not fair,” they said. “It’s like a game to them – they have guns while we can only throw rocks. It’s like they think, what will happen if I shoot at them? They were just teasing the Palestinians here. They don’t respect the humanity of the other side.” Staff emphasized that the Israeli military can come and go whenever they please, although Bethlehem is governed by the Palestinian Authority.
HCEF Country Representative reported that he was unable to join the other staff members in the office, although he was only 100 feet away. “I kept calling them every ten or fifteen minutes to make sure they weren’t choking on the poison gas,” he said. “They were very close, and I was afraid for them.”
After being trapped in the office for four hours, staff members decided to run for their cars. The Administrative Officer ran first. As our Accountant was preparing to follow her, she saw a gas bomb explode in the path. Although it was dangerous, she and the Project Coordinator did not leave abandon their colleague. They ran to join her and escaped safely away from the scene. The Coordinator said, “Those moments when I was closing the office felt like slow motion, because I was turned around and the Israeli soldiers could shoot me easily then.” The staff stressed that anyone in close proximity to an Israeli action is in danger, not just the people who are engaged.
Bethlehem has not seen this level of violence in years. Staff reported their shock at violence in the area, but noted, “Now it is like nothing happened – everything is back to normal again.” There are no expectations of further military action or other disturbances in the area.
“Thanks be to God that they are all right” said the Country Representative “We are from the Holy Land, we live there as any Palestinian does, Christian or Muslim – there is no protection for us. We are serving as witnesses to all Palestinians who are living under occupation.”
For more information about the Holy Land Christians or to find out how you can support and encourage them, visit www.hcef.org, or call (866)871-4234.